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Outside View: Trial Proof of Democracy

By DAVID CHAMBERS

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- The capture of Saddam Hussein on December 14, 2003, alone means nothing but, coupled with subsequent consequences, has the potential to impart far greater impact on the future of the country and the region. Saddam¹s pending trials, international and domestic, offer a second chance to translate the Coalition's military victories into long-term unity and democracy in Iraq.

Saddam's trials both abroad and at home in Iraq should take plenty of time and need to be broadcast daily and without censorship, so that the people of Iraq, the Middle East, and the world can see democracy at work. These trials have the potential to develop and coalesce a new Iraqi media. These events necessitate granting access to all media, including al-Jazeera and al-Arabiyya so they too can report on these trials.

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The U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors' Middle East Television Network, scheduled to launch this month, has been presented with the perfect opportunity to gain credibility in the region -- by broadcasting, C-SPAN style, the proceedings of Saddam Hussein's trials, unedited and without commentary. Overall, a gamut of free media will publicize the facts of Saddam¹s actions while demonstrating the fairness of his trials. The result will facilitate the freedom of expression to discuss openly people's interpretations of events. Free publication and free expression are key components of democratic freedom of the press. Free media covering Saddam's trials represents a chance to prove to Iraqis and others that the democratic process can and will work in the Middle East.

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Saddam's trials need to employ the thoroughness of the Milosovic trials, as they provide a second chance to document clearly the guilt of Saddam and his cohorts. They should aim to bring about a national catharsis in Iraq, as trials did in South Africa. Saddam's trials need to be made publicly, thoroughly, and transparently, so that both Iraq and international courts can mete out justice to the truly guilty.

Simultaneously, these trials offer a second chance to publicly exonerate those people who in the past chose to work within the Baathist government but did not support Baathist party principles or misdeeds.

Many people held mid-level and lower-level government jobs; their guilt was to work for a government that was by far the largest employer in the country. These trials may also serve to prove people's innocence rather than guilt, thus paving the way for the innocent and exonerated to support the new Iraq, rather than be shunned by it and possibly come to resent and even resist it.

Every overthrow of tyranny runs the risk of merely replacing the old with a new tyranny. International and domestic trials can translate Saddam's capture into a second, longer-term chance for success in Iraq by providing concrete, literally "trial proof" that democracy works. Many other changes can also be implemented under the banner of these trials without losing face.

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Seize the second chance that Saddam Hussein's trials offer: there may not be a third.


(David Chambers is Director of Programs at the Middle East Institute and a Middle East expert specializing in Media & Entertainment and Education. The above is a Perspective paper published by the Middle East Institute of Washington, DC. Assertions and opinions in this Perspective are solely those of the above-mentioned author and do not reflect necessarily the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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